If you look up the word Dirk in the dictionary and you’ll find a reference to a dagger from the Scottish highlands. Though as the Lakers have just found out, it could also be listed a dagger from the Germanic high post.
Much has been made of this being the first playoff series between two veterans who have played post season ball the past 10 years but another interesting matchup is who these two players represent.
Reams of copy have been written on Kobe Bryant and in particular his status as the best “clutch” scorer in the game.
He has built his impressive resume on a willingness to take the responsibility for the final shot, and has made more than enough of them to stick solidly in our memories.
His heroics have cemented his self appointed nickname nick name as the Black Mamba.
But on the flip side for much of Dirk Nowitzki’s career the same analysts have often pilloried his inability to perform in the moment and trot out his MVP award ceremony, which was held in street clothes during the second round, as a punch line for underachievement.
But if you get a quantitative analyst in the room they’ll hold the Diggler up as the best crunch time scorer in the game and one of the few players who rise during the playoff.
Apparently the numbers say that over the recent years the star player most likely to get you a bucket at the end of a close game is the soft German with a choking problem.
A big part of this disconnect comes from Dirks’ inability to win a championship.
In the NBA, it is an unwritten rule that if a team doesn’t advance their star must be a choker. Despite it being a team sport a championship is almost universally viewed as the crowning individual achievement.
But if we look back across at Kobe compared to Dirk, in the play-off plays his stats are marginally worse than in the regular season. To be clear this isn’t a knock on Kobe.
You expect a scorer to perform at a slightly less efficient level in the playoffs as the competition is on average better and teams are able to build a defensive game plan specifically for you over a 7 game series.
The NBA’s most lauded crunch time scorer and playoff assassin drop 0.013 points from his true shooting percentage (TS%) and 1.1 points from his PER.
Dirk? Well just comparing the years he’s gone to the playoffs his PER actually nudged up 0.1 with his TS% slipping just 0.007.
Now I’m not putting Dirk Nowitzki up there as better overall player than Kobe.
However, surely there comes a time that we appreciate a player who has put up more points than shots in every playoff game this year, and who can more than handle himself in the pressure cooker of playoff basketball.
After all, he’s only been doing it for around a decade.